When Gloria Schoolfield was looking for a retirement community, she had one specific requirement — that her dog Tessa would be welcome.
She found that at Whitney Center, where residents are allowed to own pets. But one thing that was missing was a place where her dog could run.
“I started asking for a dog park before I bought my apartment,” she said Tuesday at the grand opening of the center’s new dog park. “We wouldn’t have come here if we couldn’t have a dog.”
It was during a conversation with residents about a year and a half ago that the idea of a dog park came up, said Whitney Center President and CEO Michael Rambarose.
“The idea came about during a conversation with residents,” he said. “We encourage dog ownership so it made sense.”
They came up with a budget for the park, to which residents contributed, he said, and soon work began on the park. It officially opened Tuesday with a reception that included dog bones for the canine guests and bone-shaped cookies for their human companions.
“Besides unconditional love, dog ownership promotes mobility and fills a void for those who are lonely,” said Diane Miller, a nurse at the center. “It brings people together over their dogs.”
“It adds purpose to their lives,” Rambarose said. “All of us need to care for a living creature.”
“And the staff loves them,” Miller said of the dogs and cats living at the center.
There are at least eight dogs and four cats living with center residents, Miller said, and visiting family members often bring their dogs with them. What was missing was a place for them to gather, she said.
Center resident Allie Poole said her dog Matt loves the park. “He is a fairly good-size dog and he needs a place to run,” she said of the boxer mix. “It’s great. He runs around and gets rid of his energy.”
Poole adopted the dog from the Dan Cosgrove Animal Shelter in Branford after his former owner passed away.
“This is wonderful. There are benches to sit on and water for the dogs,” she said. “In the winter it was hard to walk him with the ice, and this is going to work out very well.”
“We don’t want there to be any barriers for using the dog park,” Rambarose said. “It was meant for dogs to be able to run free and get their energy out.”
“I think it’s a wonderful addition,” said resident Myrna Baskin, who was enjoying the day with her dog Daisy. “It’s given much happiness to the pets as well as the humans.”
Schoolfield said owning Tessa has enriched her life.
“She introduced me to people,” Schoolfield said. “It’s like I am her mother and I’m taking her to school.”
“The dogs meet in the halls (of the center) and bark at each other,” said resident Emilie Schwartz, who lives with her dog Carly. “Here, they come and play with each other. It’s very nice.”